‘Very Sad Day’: Fire Engulfs Historic Toronto Church

Built in the Byzantine Revival style evocative of the soaring Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Toronto church was known for its soaring architecture and its lavish interior.

St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto in September 2012.
St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto in September 2012. (photo: Mr. J. Shaft / CC BY-SA 2.0/Wikimedia Commons)

The Archdiocese of Toronto on Sunday called for prayers after a fire engulfed and largely destroyed a historic Anglican church in the Canadian city.

The Toronto Police Services said in a news release on Sunday that early in the day authorities responded to a fire report at St. Anne’s Anglican Church on Gladstone Avenue. There police “observed thick black smoke coming from the church and the church fully engulfed in flames.”

The fire quickly destroyed much of the church, including the roof and the interior. Officials are “currently investigating” the disaster, the police said.

In a statement on Sunday, Toronto Metropolitan Archbishop Francis Leo said the Anglican church, which dates to around 1908, was “a place where Christians have gathered for over a hundred years to worship and adore Jesus Christ.”

“It was a marvelously constructed place of worship where people could pray to Our Lord while surrounded by beautiful and historic artwork — a place of refuge for believers in the heart of a large and busy city,” the archbishop said.

“Today is indeed a very sad day and I wish to convey my sorrow, solidarity, and my support to the Anglican Diocese of Toronto,” the Catholic prelate said.

Also affected by the fire, the archbishop noted, will be “thousands of people in the surrounding area who have come to rely on the generosity of this parish community in serving meals and caring for the less fortunate.”

“Please know that everyone impacted by this fire will remain in the prayers of the faithful members of the Catholic community throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto today, the Lord’s Day, and in the days and weeks ahead,” the archbishop said.

In a letter addressed to parishioners, meanwhile, the church’s pastor, Don Beyers, said he was “mourn[ing] the loss of our beautiful church.”

“We continue on as [a] church and we will remain a parish community and a church for all,” Father Beyers wrote. “In the coming days I will consult with diocesan leadership and our leadership team to determine where to worship as we begin the work of rebuilding.”

The pastor said the parish community would “rise from the ashes stronger and even more committed to our mission to be a church for all people.”

The Toronto church was known for its soaring architecture and its lavish interior. It was built in the Byzantine Revival style evocative of the soaring Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The original church structure, built in the 1860s, served as the church’s meeting hall.

Its interiors, meanwhile, were decorated with murals painted in part by members of the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian landscape painters active from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century.

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